Gary Carter Will Be "The Kid" Forever

Without Gary Carter, 1986 doesn't happen

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    NEWSLETTERS

    "He was the leader who took all control... he always was smiling, he was just a happy guy." Former teammate Dwight "Doc" Gooden tells Bruce Beck of Carter's impact on the team, and how he helped him through a tough time. (Published Wednesday, Sep 19, 2012)

    Someone knew what they were doing when they decided to give Gary Carter the nickname "The Kid."

    The endless smiles, the unending enthusiasm and the eternal optimism always made Carter seem like he was playing in Little League instead of the big leagues. He brought all of those qualities to his fight with brain cancer, just as he brought them to the Mets when he arrived in 1985.

    Carter lost his battle with brain cancer on Thursday. But his contributions to the Mets -- on and off the field -- will not soon be forgotten.

    In 1984, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were ascendant, Keith Hernandez gave the Mets a bit of veteran grit after he arrived from St. Louis and the Mets finished second to the Cubs. Even without Carter, better days seemed to be ahead for the franchise after a long spell in the wilderness. 

    But Carter's arrival in 1985 jacked things up to an even higher level. He was a perennial All-Star, widely considered to be the best catcher in the National League and the kind of gregarious leader that stamped a team as ready to make the move from hopefuls to contenders.

    That promise was fulfilled on Opening Day when he homered in the bottom of the 10th to beat the Cardinals. St. Louis would hold on to take the division in 1985, but the next year ended up very differently.

    It ended with the Mets on top of the baseball world and Carter was an essential part of the team even though his constant sunniness never really seemed to mesh with the overwhelming swagger of the rest of the team. The stylistic clash didn't matter on the field, though, as Carter was a steady producer in the middle of the lineup in the regular season and an author of some of the biggest postseason moments.

    There was his single in extra innings to win Game Five of the NLCS, sending the Mets back to Houston with a 3-2 series lead and a chance to close things out without another game against Mike Scott.  Carter walked in the top of the ninth in Game Six to help extend the game long enough for the Mets to tie it up before the epic seven extra innings it took to send them to the World Series.

    In Game Four of the World Series, Carter homered twice over the Green Monster to lead the Mets to a series-tying victory. And then there was Game Six.

    We've all seen the 10th inning play out a million times, so conjuring up the memory of Carter singling with two outs and two strikes to touch off the most memorable rally in Mets history is as easy as if it happened 25 minutes ago instead of 25 years ago. Equally vivid is the memory of Carter pumping his fist as he crosses the plate on Ray Knight's single, exhorting the Mets toward the most improbably of victories.

    It's those images that come to mind when we learn of Carter's death. The broad smile on his face, the big hits in the big moments and, finally, his charge to the mound to embrace Jesse Orosco after that final out in Game Seven when Shea Stadium was the center of the entire world.

    For me, the memory is a bit more personal. My younger brother was a Carter fanatic, to the point that he decided he had to play catcher even though left-handers didn't play catcher.

    His desire to be like "The Kid" led him to hunt down a lefty catcher's mitt that he brought to Shea Stadium one day in hopes of showing it to Carter before a game. His wish was granted and Carter spent a good 10 minutes marveling over the glove, asking my brother about his catching skills and generally making him feel like the most significant person in the world.

    It's a small moment, one that's probably shared in various ways by thousands of others who got a chance to meet Carter at some point during his life, but it is a moment that neither my brother nor I ever forgot.

    Carter will be missed, but he'll be forever celebrated for the man and player that he was while calling New York home.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.